Middle seat meshugaas
Another Southwest flight, another story from 30,000 feet above the Earth.
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And now it’s time for our story 👇
One little-known, but widely-felt provision of federal law requires airlines to overbook their reservations so that there’s zero chance of an empty seat on your flight. Another equally obscure provision of federal law states that the middle seat, whenever practicable, “shall be occupied by a person who demonstrates poor social skills.” On a recent flight from Las Vegas to Burbank, Southwest Airlines reminded me of both laws. I was assigned boarding number B58. This is my story.
“Is that seat taken?”
The middle seat next to me wasn’t taken. So, I got up, stepped into the aisle, and made room for the man in the Lakers cap.
“Damn this is tight,” Lakers Fan said as he settled into the middle seat.
“Sardines,” said Window Seat.
“Thankfully, it’s a short flight,” I said. “Fifty minutes, or so, and we’re in beautiful downtown Burbank.”
Lakers Fan didn’t respond. Window Seat placed his sweater against the window and nodded off. I tried to focus on my book, The New Map: Energy, Climate, and The Clash of Nations by Daniel Yergin. But I quickly became distracted when one of the last people to take her seat couldn’t find an overhead bin for her rolling bag.
“You’ll have to check it,” the flight attendant said.
“It’s always something in this damn world,” the woman said.
I thought the woman with the rolling bag might pitch a proper fit, or at the very least treat us to a glimpse of her grim worldview. But “this damn world” had defeated her. Without protest, she handed her bag to the flight attendant, who wheeled the bag up to the front of the plane so that the gate agent could check it. Then, on her return trip down the aisle, the flight attendant stopped at our row.
“Excuse me, sir,” the flight attendant said. “I’m going to have to ask you to put your mask on properly.”
I looked over at Lakers Fan. He had lowered his mask so that he wore it as a chinstrap.
“Huh?” Lakers Fan said.
“Your mask,” the flight attendant said. “It needs to cover your mouth and your nose.”
The flight attendant demonstrated with her mask. I wasn’t sure why a demonstration necessary, but it worked. Lakers Fan complied, and the flight attendant walked away.
“They’re picking on me,” Lakers Fan said. “You see that, right? They’re picking on me, singling me out.”
“The mask rule applies to everyone,” I said.
“Nah. I’m being persecuted.”
I shrugged and let it go. Lakers Fan had basketball clips to watch on his phone, I had a page-turner about geopolitics to read, and from the looks of things, Window Seat had some sleep to catch up on.
Shortly after takeoff, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom. Like all American pilots, he spoke with the confident twang of someone impersonating Harrison Ford playing Chuck Yeager.
“Folks, we’re our way to Burbank,” he said. “We should have you there in about forty-five minutes. Because it’s such a short flight, our excellent cabin crew won’t have time to do any beverage service today. Sorry about that.”
As soon as the pilot finished his announcement, Lakers Fan pressed the call button. A moment later, the flight attendant appeared.
“Can I help you?” the flight attendant asked.
“Yeah, let me get an apple juice on ice. And some peanuts. You have peanuts, right?”
“I’m sorry, sir. As the captain explained, there isn’t any beverage service on this flight. We’ll be on the ground in no time.”
The flight attendant canceled the call button and walked away.
“They’re messing with me,” Lakers Fan said. “Refusing to get me a drink. They’re messing with me. Do you believe that?”
Did I believe that? No, not really. The announcement about beverage service had been clear. The flight attendant had also been clear. There would be no apple juice on this flight, no soda, no booze, and certainly, no peanuts.
“It’s not personal,” I said. “This is such a short flight that we start our descent almost as soon as we get to thirty thousand feet. There’s literally no time to get everyone drinks.”
“Of course it’s personal,” he said. “I asked for apple juice. Are they getting me apple juice?”
At first, I didn’t answer because it sounded like one of those rhetorical questions. But then Lakers Fan asked again.
“Do you see them bringing me apple juice?”
“I don’t see them bringing anyone apple juice.”
That settled that. For the next few minutes, I read about the madness of a world that wages wars to control an energy source that’s slowly killing the planet. Lakers Fan watched basketball clips on his phone. Window Seat snoozed. Everything was going fine, but then we hit a patch of turbulence, and Lakers Fan sat up ramrod straight.
“Folks, we’ve got a little turbulence up here,” the pilot said over the intercom. “Nothing to worry about, but the fasten seat belt sign is on, just to be safe. Please remain in your seats. We’ll be on the ground in about twenty minutes.”
As soon as the captain finished his announcement, Lakers Fan tapped me on the shoulder.
“I gotta get up,” he said.
I looked at the illuminated seatbelt sign.
“I gotta use the bathroom,” Lakers Fan said.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and got up to let Lakers Fan out of the row. But less than thirty seconds after heading for the bathroom, Lakers Fan returned.
“Told you it was personal,” he said as he sat back down in the middle seat. “Now, they won’t let me use the bathroom.”
Once again, I was certain this wasn’t personal. But I let the comment go without rebuttal. I didn’t care if Lakers Fan was a paranoid narcissist. People who wrongly believe they’re being singled out when the rules that apply to everyone are applied to them are a dime a dozen these days. I buried my nose in my book.
As the plane began to descend, I felt my ears pop. We’d be on the ground in five minutes, or less, I guessed. Window Seat’s nap would soon be over, Lakers Fan could finally get that apple juice, and I’d be free of a seat mate who thinks everyone is plotting against him.
But all of a sudden, turbulence rocked the plane. I felt Lakers Fan grab my arm. I turned to left and saw that Laker’s Fan had also grabbed Window Seat’s arm.
“Is this how Kobe died?” Lakers Fan asked. “Am I going out like Kobe?”
Lakers Fan looked frightened. I wanted to say something comforting, something like, Kobe died in a helicopter crash and that the helicopter shouldn’t have been flying that day because there was zero visibility. But for some reason, maybe the vise-grip on my arm, I couldn’t find any comforting words.
“You’re not Kobe,” I said as a freed my arm from the man’s grip.
“I’m gonna die just like Kobe.”
Just then, the plane’s wheels touched down on the runway with a hard thump. Lakers Fan screamed, but as the pilot applied the breaks and the plane slowed down, he realized that we were safe and sound on the ground.
“Oh man, I thought we were gonna die,” Lakers Fan said.
“What do you mean by we?”
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